The questions of media philosophers and cultural critics in the realm of gender and sexuality are rarely ever meant to have answers. Narrative closure on any kind of discourse that’s describing enactions in action suggests a mistake or maladjustment somewhere along the way. That certainly is holding true in terms of the notion of the “gaze.” Based on the theories of Lacan, elaborated by Foucault, and utilized and further theorized by Laura Mulvey (among others), the “gaze” is a concept that quickly turns into a cipher.
It takes as its starting point the image, whether it’s a filmic image, one from live performance, or from the performance of every day life. Drawing more deeply on the notion of “image” in the celebrity sense, it is that essence that gets projected outward, or the reception of a presence of a perceived essence. More often, it becomes a perception of a desired essence, at least in terms of critical theory, so that the one projecting the image becomes an object upon which others look (or gaze, of course).
It is an entirely useful idea, and although it reflects and refracts more easily among those who have a little bit of experience in the theoretical, it also enters into mainstream culture every day. Notions of gender stereotyping often draw upon the ideas found here, especially in Mulvey’s work, and serve as ways of educating and informing young people (or anyone interested in more nuanced notions of sexuality). At the core of the idea, there is a notion that the one who is looking is taking away the subjectivity of the one projecting, so much so that it does not matter if the perception has anything to do with the lived experience of the one being looked at. They become as objects.
This, too, becomes more complex when it escapes the discourse of heteronormative desire. Queer or gay subjectivities write about more dynamic ideas of power. When there is attention toward a more egalitarian notion of play in desire, then the notion of the gaze becomes less vertical, and more horizontal. The idea of looking is one based on cultural and sexual codes, and when these codes are revealed, then there are also more enticing revelations for human interactions that are simultaneously playful and serious, questioning the power of the one doing the gazing, and not expecting any closed answers. All desire, then, becomes a verb and an action based on constructions, and this suggests that the human subject is much freer than they may have ever imagined.